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Behind IG: Justin Lim on Instagram vs professional photography

Nov 07, 2017

Shot by Siying Chen

32.6K followers. Justin Lim (more widely known as @hurtingbombz) is one of Hong Kong’s most sought-after wedding and event photographers. He’s also a lifestyle influencer, a term that he still struggles to come to grips with. In our latest "Behind IG" column, which gets to know the actual people behind Asia's most influential and up-and-coming Instagram accounts, Justin talks to us about what it's like to be both an influencer and a professional photographer in Hong Kong. 

“I still resist identifying myself with the term [influencer] … I’m a little embarrassed by attention like that. Some people write me saying it’s amazing that I commented on their photo but I’m really just a very normal guy,” he says, as we catch up over coffee in Café Corridor—a tiny hole-in-the-wall, which has been in Causeway Bay for well over a decade. It's the perfect setting for our interview. Justin is, what I would say, very old-school in that way. He uses his Instagram just like any 'ordinary' person would, as a place to share what you find interesting and inspirational—his 20 years of professional photography experience, of course, helps. 


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Funnily enough, I first started following Justin because of the way he shot food—he’s the one who made using hands in food photography trendy—and legitimate—in Hong Kong. While not his favourite subject, Justin still shoots food but only for a small group of hand-picked clients and well, whenever he gets his caffeine fix.



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His feed is filled with beautiful shots of the city’s up-and-coming models, influencers and creative people framed by nostalgic Hong Kong backdrops and he also teaches seminars on social media strategy. Up until five years ago, Justin was a full-time lawyer. Unsurprisingly, he received a lot of criticism when he finally decided to quit his job and start his own photography business, The Kandid.

“Hong Kong has a very specific mentality and many people think that Hong Kong is not a creative place. One thing that I would say is that when you’re in an environment, which by default subdues creativity quite a lot, it’s good and it’s bad because it forces the creativity out of the people who really want to fight hard for it. Now that said, it’s not an easy place to do it. You have to be very aggressive, not just in terms of marketing but how you fight for your own business. Companies will try and bully you—just like in any line of work in Hong Kong.”

But why leave a stable job, which makes decent money? He simply wanted to enjoy himself more: “With photography you tend to meet people during good times, whether it’s a wedding or a birthday, whereas when I was working in law, I would meet people at their worst moments like when they’re trying to get a law suit or a divorce.”

And the followers? “It’s been kind of cool for me, because I did carve out my own niche in some way,” explains Justin. “I sit in between the pro photography camp and the Instagram/blogger camp. So many professional photographers are not interested in Instagram at all, which I find so strange. I mean why wouldn’t you? Just like you would embrace the technology of the new camera. You have to embrace the technology from the onset of a new era of social media.”

Capturing that winning shot, is not as easy as it looks, as Justin puts quite succinctly, “real photography is intuitive”, but there are things that do help such as using the correct hashtags, posting at specific times and really honing in on the type of photography that your followers respond to. The challenge, he argues, lies not with aspiring, everyday Instgrammers but with professional photographers who need to evolve with what’s going on in the social media world.



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“As a professional photographer, your word was always law. And now there’s a lot of challenges coming to that traditional stream.”   

Rather than posting photos from shoots with his clients or of himself, Justin leans towards a more abstract form of self-expression. “I started my Instagram account to see what I could with my iPhone. Now it’s developed to the point that I use more professional bodies but it’s more about capturing mood and feeling,” says Justin. When asked about how he feels about the square crop: “I am [a fan] actually. I think the square crop trains the eye to a particular subject very well. When I started taking photos in the late nineties, it was still all film.”

While many have chosen to make their living as an Instagram influencer, pursuing this full-time isn’t something Justin has really considered: “Instagram is not the main slice of the pie for me, but it’s there and the one good thing, leaving aside the money, is that I’ve really worked with some incredible brands through that platform.”

“I don’t always want to accept payment to promote something that doesn’t align with my branding or confuse my followers. I think with me, I tend to be a bit more selective and in turn, the brands I do work with tend to appreciate that more.”

The one thing Justin wants his followers to know: “I’m a very normal guy who’s happy to have coffee with pretty much anyone. Intrinsically, if you’re yourself and you’re still the same person that you ever were [before Instagram] it’s a better way to live life and your followers will respect that.”  

Read more: #legend100hk: The leading digital voices in Hong Kong

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Yi Li Dawson